Portland-based Anna Tivel just might be the most honest musician I have come across in recent years. Her gentle acoustic guitar-driven, relatable folk musings are infectious to say the least, especially her distinctive raspy vocals. I last caught up with Anna back in 2017, and I had a wonderful conversation with her about her life as a musician. Since then I’m thrilled to see she hasn’t lost her drive as a lyricist or even her amazing love of life. On her new album The Question, I’m equally thrilled to see she still finds inspiration in the things around her. That said, I reached out to Anna again recently to talk about her new album. Here is some of what we talked about.
If listeners could take away one message from your new album The Question, what would you want that to be?
I guess more than anything, my hope is that listeners would get through the album and feel seen/heard. I hope that they feel little bits of themselves in the stories and take that feeling of connection and empathy out into the world. That would be my greatest hope. Or just that the melodies make them feel peaceful or melancholy or moved, that would also be real good.
I sense you have been enjoying yourself in the lead up and eventual album launch. Are you overwhelmed by the favourable response the album is receiving?
It’s be a big busy joyful time for sure. We worked crazy hard to make this record, everyone involved, and it feels deeply good to have some folks responding to it in positive ways. There’s so much going on in the music world, the internet, all of it, so to have even a few kind responses after pouring your whole heart into something feels really gratifying and like a big beautiful team effort between the musicians, producer, engineer, press, label, management, all those wonderful friends you helped so much to get it out there.
What has stood out on the road this time around that is different since the last cycle of tours for Small Believer (2017)? And what is the mood like around America?
Touring this new record has been great. Some of the shows were with a full band and that’s completely new to me and is very musically rewarding and exploratory. I love traveling around this country. Everytime I think I have people pegged as being a certain way, believing a certain thing, they go and completely change my mind. It’s a heck of a hard and scary time right now, divisive and ugly, but people are also trying so hard to stay informed and take care of each other and find small ways to be good on whatever side they find themselves on. It’s crazy to drive around in the south and see confederate flags still and listen to intense conservative radio, then play a show to the most sweet and generous group of people who are good listeners and empathetic speakers. It reminds me to stay open over and over again.
You take a look at the realities of immigration on Fenceline. Is this in some sense a rare political song for you?
I don’t really think of my songs as pointedly political or not political. I guess I just try to tell the small stories that move me, people struggling, hoping, trying to change something that is holding them down. Fenceline is just a story of one person looking for a better life and going to great lengths to move toward it.
I still find myself circling back to The Question’s title track. Can you tell me something surprising about its evolution?
The title track started out as a poem written in my head late at night in New York City. I looked in a high up brownstone window and saw a man putting on a wig and makeup and it looked both beautiful and lonely.
You still have that incredible knack of finding a good story to convey and sing about. What are some of the things that still completely take you by surprise about our human existence?
People are so interesting and strange and contradictory. I’m just always moved by small moments and try to make a habit of noticing the way people hold their bodies and react to each other and their surroundings. My favorite thing in the world is to sit by some window or at a park and watch people go by. It seems very comforting to me that everyone is hoping and struggling and questioning everything all the time.
I adore the last track on the album called Two Strangers, arguably your most romantic track yet. Are you a romantic at heart? Is there a little bit of you in that song?
That was another song written in a big city. I get really lost thinking of how easy it is for us to pass each other by, how rare it is to truly connect to someone, create a friendship or a romance and keep it alive, especially in a busy, fast paced place. Sometimes it seems like the more people there are, the harder it gets to have a deep connection with any of them.
You said to me back in late 2017 that you often feel like once your songs are out in the world, they’re not really yours anymore, they just sort of exist. Do you feel the same way about the collection of song on this new album? Surely you have one or two favourite songs in there that you can still call your own?
I still feel that way. The songs are always close to my heart, but once they’re out in the world, they seem more like they just exist on their own than as something that I can claim and shape. Songs are so malleable when you start them, the story could veer in any direction. But once you play them at hundreds of shows and record them, they seem to settle into a certain zone where they have their own intrinsic feeling.
Anna Tivel’s latest album The Question is available via Fluff & Gravy Records | Bandcamp | Spotify. You can connect with Anna Tivel via her Facebook page or twitter handle @annativelmusic. For more information on Anna Tivel including tour updates check out her website. Watch her on You Tube.